By Paulo Whitaker and Pablo Garcia
VITORIA, Brazil (Reuters) - Authorities in the Brazilian state of Espirito Santo threatened striking police officers with criminal charges on Friday as the federal government sent in more troops in a bid to end a week of violent anarchy that has left more than 120 people dead.
Espirito Santo is one of several Brazilian states grappling with a budget crisis that is crippling essential public services for millions of citizens. The police strike over the past week, over pay, has left a security vacuum and led to rampant assaults, heists and looting, often in broad daylight.
Limited protests by police in nearby Rio de Janeiro alarmed many residents of the teeming city of 12 million people, many of whom live in fear of violence between rival drug gangs spilling out of hillside slums.
A spokesman for the local police union in Espirito Santo said the death toll from a week of unrest had risen to 122. Many of the dead are believed to come from rival criminal gangs, according to police.
State officials have not officially confirmed the number of dead.
If accurate, the toll would be more than six times the homicide rate in the state last year.
President Michel Temer's government said late on Thursday that hundreds more soldiers and federal police would be sent in to help stem the chaos, focused mostly in the metropolitan region of Vitoria, the state capital.
After an initial deployment of 1,200 troops in recent days, as many as 3,000 would be there by the weekend, the defense ministry said.
State officials said on Friday that more than 700 striking state officers, who in Brazil are organized with military-style ranks and rules, would be charged with rebellion.
Wives and family members who have blockaded police stations could also face fines and other penalties, they said.
"We will not be weak," said Andre Garcia, the secretary. "We will ensure that the rule of law is preserved."
SCHOOLS, SHOPS SHUT
Local officials have closed schools, clinics and public transportation, while shops and other businesses have closed their shutters, causing about $30 million in losses, according to a state retail association.
Meanwhile, in Rio, where the state government has been struggling to pay salaries, family members of some officers early on Friday blocked the entrance to a handful of local police stations in an effort to keep squad members from patrolling.
The tactic, which on a much larger scale has paralyzed Espirito Santo, affected just a few districts. By Friday afternoon, no major problems had been reported.
Police officials, who said they detained one Rio officer for encouraging a strike online, said that 95 percent of the force was working.
The department tweeted photographs of patrol cars and officers at their posts across the city, Brazil's most popular destination for foreign tourists and famed around the world for its colorful Carnival celebration.
Social networks and messaging platforms in Rio have buzzed in recent days with rumors of a pending police shutdown, as Carnival looms at the end of the month. However, officials have said they do not expect a full-fledged strike.
In addition to late pay and budget cutbacks that have curtailed their ability to buy basic supplies, Rio's police have recently been clashing with protesters demonstrating against a push by the state government to cut costs and sell state assets, including the local water utility.
(Additional reporting by Paulo Prada; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Meredith Mazzilli)